By Alejandra Vargas Garcia and Josh Lemoine
The Asinabka Festival, an annual Indigenous film and media art festival, promises to expose people to some of the best and most interesting work being made by independent and global artists, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. We spoke to the festival’s co-directors, Howard Adler and Christopher Wong, to get a sense of what to expect from the Festival celebrating its 7th edition.
Asinabka, an Algonquin word meaning “place of glare rock,” is an area that includes Victoria Island and Chaudière Falls. The festival borrowed the name out of respect for the area’s significance as a sacred place, as well as one of protest over land occupation.
Adler and Wong are both of Anishinaabe background, and Wong said they started the festival realizing the need to “reclaim Indigenous spaces, especially traditional Indigenous spaces, and also to get the message out about some of the great work that’s been going on in Indigenous arts.” They believe it is an important message for this festival to be based in the epicentre of Canada’s political apparatus.
What makes Asinabka relevant and unique for viewers?
Representation: “A lot of the work shown in Asinabka doesn’t get airtime elsewhere,” says Adler. The festival creates a space for artists to be heard and discovered. The films selected are the result of both a call for submissions online and works invited directly by organizers. A jury of 4-5 people, composed mainly of Indigenous artists, makes the selection.
Broadening views: Adler made it clear that Asinabka “isn’t Indigenous 101, we don’t exist to educate.” The festival aims to expose participants to interesting and often innovative art.
When asked about the role of arts in reconciliation, Wong and Adler had much to say. For Wong, art has a definitive role to play. “Art is often seen as a tool for social change. We have an art exhibition at Gallery 101 called ‘Hot Culture’ that talks about Indigenous fashion from a perspective that challenges colonialism and the impact colonialism has. I think art is a great way to have those conversations.”
For Adler, “reconciliation is a loaded term in mainstream media.” He tends to stay clear of the term in relation to Asinabka Festival, as he feels that the narrative around reconciliation is often “disingenuous” when policy decisions are made without consultation or even directly against the interests of Indigenous communities.
When Indigenous people make their own films, you see a different reality.
The festival succeeds in helping break stereotypes and gives a megaphone to Indigenous artists to tell their own stories, in their own way. “Most of the images that we often see about Indigenous people portray stereotypes. When Indigenous people make their own films, you see a different reality.”
The stories are varied, ranging from virtual reality to violence against women. Wong highlights, “we’re showcasing a lot of very stark indigenous social realities, not just here in Canada but around the world. [They provoke] a lot of questions about some of the issues that arise, like the residential schools, the child welfare system, land claims, missing and murdered Indigenous women.”
Small and mighty: Over the years, organizers have come into their own and realized that they “don’t need to be the Toronto International Film Festival.” Asinabka is a small festival funded through grants, but where it goes big is in its efforts to connect meaningfully with the community and to create a space for artists to network, not just to show art.
Wong’s picks for this edition include:
- Opening night film ‘Searching for Winnetou’, about director Drew Hayden Taylor’s quest to understand the roots of the German obsession with Native North Americans. Director will be in attendance for the screening.
- Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, performing at the AsinFest Music Showcase. “They’re this innovative, new-wave, progressive, rock-opera band that combines Japanese No Wave and Mohawk mythology in their music. It’s pretty out there.”
Join the conversation from August 8th to the 12th.
The Asinabka Film & Media Art Festival schedule is available online. Passes are available for $30. Afternoon tickets cost $10. Tickets are available at the door. Snacks and cash bar on site.